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The Mind Screen

Identification Desire and Its Cinematic Arena

Georg Schmid

For well over a century cinema has exerted enormous influence, yet many questions regarding its fascination remain unanswered. Films work so well because the viewers tend to unconsciously identify with the actors/actresses. The desire to become another, substituting identity by identification, can be traced to the illusion that the filmic heroes/heroines are immortal – identifying with them raises the possibility of gaining «deathlessness.» Viewers can, without real life risks, experiment with the existential drafts presented; the power of imagination is mobilized. Based on a multidisciplinary approach (semiotics, psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, plus a healthy dose of film history), this book presents prolegomena of a philosophy of cinema.
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42 The Axes of Identification


This choice of a metaphor may not be the wisest–many will still think of the much despised expression axis of evil–but it can facilitate the comprehension of the multiple dynamics at work when we identify. Simply picture the arrangement of the three spatial axes but keep in mind that it is used here not in the strict geometrical sense. I suggest that there are the axes of, first, profundity and intensity (imaginable as the vertical one) plus two horizontal ones which I call, two, the thematic one and, three, the chronological one, respectively. Add a fourth dimension: insert yourself as ageing (or ripening) observer: your predilections are not immutable, the longer you live, the bigger the chance that they change or that you acquire new tastes, possibly as a result of adaptations, themselves over time, of the genres.

The first axis appears to be the easiest to understand, although only at first glance and misleadingly so. To what an extent you bind yourself to a movie–as though gears would engage, but rather think of a kind of CVT transmission–is experienced in a seemingly straightforward fashion; still, it is supremely difficult to find out what makes you “tick.” It can be the actor/actress, the role, a situation, the plot, even a simple phrase can “enrail” you, if you aren’t on track anyway for quite some time already. I provide a simple example. Recall Eastwood’s Absolute Power: in the beginning a young woman says...

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